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The Horton


The Horton

On September 1, 1871 the Gloucester fishing schooner Edward A. Horton, while on a trip to the Cape Shore for mackerel, was seized by a Canadian Cutter for fishing inside the three mile limit.  She was taken to Guysborough, Nova Scotia, stripped of her sails and secured to a wharf, where she was to be held in custody until a court could be convened to decide the case.

The Horton was not the first Gloucesterman to be so impounded and on both sides of the border tempers flared over the controversial issues involved.  Since her owners had a vessel seized the previous year they held but little faith in Dominion justice and foresaw months of litigation with the possible loss of the schooner as the final result.

However, Captain Harvey Knowlton, himself a part owner in the vessel, was determined that the Horton would not end her days flying the "red duster" like so many other Gloucester schooners before her and going home to Cape Ann, as if abandoning any hope of recovering his vessel, he returned to Canso, N. S., three weeks later.  In the home of Captain "Spud" McDonald, a notorious smuggler, plans were laid to boldly recapture the schooner.   A crew consisting of Daniel Richards, Peter Gillis, Malcolm McCloud, D. McIsaac, John Penny and Charles Webber, Grand Banks fishermen, was enlisted in Canso for the venture.

On October 3rd, they made their way through the woods 18 miles to the outskirts of Guysborough where they hid themselves in a barn.  Captain Knowlton, in disguise, entered the town where he stayed several days, visiting the wharf where the vessel lay, locating the loft where the sails had been stored and sounding the channel.

On Sunday, October 8th conditions were right.  A clear moonless night with a fresh northwest breeze favored an outbound vessel.  The plotters left their hiding place and slipped into town at 11 p.m.  Quietly, they broke into the sail loft and found the Horton's suit of canvas.  Once on the schooner's deck the bundles were opened and deft fingers laboriously bent the sails to spars and mast hoops.  One delay was encountered when it was discovered that they had taken some sails belonging to another vessel, thus making a second visit to the loft necessary.  The plotters were unmolested.  There was no alarm.  There were not guards.  Why guard a vessel stripped of sails and aground except at high tide?

The crafty captain had planned this night's work well.  The tide was flooding and when the sails were finally bent the schooner was all but waterborne.   There was not need for talk, this crew knew their tasks.  Moorings were slipped, a warp run out, and the vessel hove astern.  At 2:30 a.m. the Horton was afloat and willing hands grasped the halyards to make sail.

On October 9th, early morning risers stared in red faced astonishment when they realized the vessel was cut out. 

Once outside Little Canso, the Horton stood offshore expecting pursuit by Canadian Cutters.  She had been refitted just two days before her capture so there was ample water and provisions aboard for an extended cruise if the need should arise.  On the 11th a severe easterly gale blew up and for two days the schooner was hove to on George's Bank.  When the storm abated, Captain Knowlton piled on sail and set his course for Cape Ann.

In the meantime, telegraph lines had carried the news of the escape to Gloucester and the town seethed with excitement.  International relations became tense.  Fearing that a Canadian Cutter might attempt to intercept the schooner in Massachusetts Bay, leading citizens of Gloucester, headed b Collector of Customs Fitz J. Babson prevailed up the Government to dispatch the U. S., Revenue Cutters McCullock, Fortune, Leyden, Mahoning and Hamlin to cruise along our coast in search for the Horton.  They were under orders to allow no vessel to interfere with her, but to bring her into port at any hazard.   It was probably fortunate that they saw neither the Horton nor any Canadian craft.

After picking up Cape Cod Light, the Horton stood across Massachusetts Bay, passing Eastern Pint into Gloucester Harbor on Wednesday, October 18th.  At 7:30 p.m. she came to anchor in the stream and the booming of a cannon at Rocky Neck announced her arrival to the waiting town.

The news spread like wild fire!  School bells were rung and the streets were filled with cries of "The Horton's in!  The Horton's in!"   It was an evening Gloucester will long remember.  The next day, Thursday, was declared a holiday, schools were closed and all business stopped.  Throughout the day crowds gathered on the wharves to gaze upon the schooner and to congratulate Captain Knowlton and his crew.  In the evening a torch light procession paraded the streets headed by the Gloucester Cornet Band and at a congratulatory meeting held in Town Hall, Captain Knowlton and his volunteer crew were presented with a purse of $1000 subscribed by the citizens of the joyful town.

Safe from the lion's angry paw,
Safe from the lapdog's snapping jaw,
Hurrah! Cape Ann is bound to win!
"The Horton's in! The Horton's in!"  

Additional information courtesy of Judith Giffin  via e-mail

Subject: HORTON
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 23:36:45 -0400
From: Judith Giffin <jgiffin@ns.sympatico.ca>

Dear Gloucester Cousins:

First, some cheeky, revisionist, history. My great grandfather James Patrick Dillon (1839-1911), balladeer and keeper of the White Head Light, wrote about the "The Horton" from a Guysborough perspective.

The vessel was seized in 1871 by the Fisheries Protection Service cutter "Sweepstake" under the command of Capt. J.A. Tory who also served as the Customs Inspector for Guysborough. A Canadian Department of Marine and Fisheries report noted that the matter was officially disposed of when the vessel was "[r]escued by United States' citizens."

Hereby hangs a tale told in verse not only by Yankee bards but also, with a twist, by the diarist in his ballad, "The Rescue of the E.A. Horton." The heroics of Capt. Harvey Knowlton Jr., in removing the "Horton" in the dead of night from its Guysborough mooring and returning home safely to Gloucester, were celebrated by the Americans in this typical refrain,

Hurrah ! Hurrah ! for Yankee wit,
Hurrah ! Hurrah ! for Cape Ann grit,
It's pluck and dash that's sure to win -
"The Horton's in ! the Horton's in !"

However, the diarist attributed the recapture of the Horton to a local Guysborough character Capt. Tom MacDonald and his wife who devised the plan and executed the escape, only to have Knowlton renege on his promises of a reward once the vessel was safely back in Gloucester. So, Dillon writes in the concluding verse of his ballad,

Leave off your empty boasting,
For despite your Yankee sneers,
The Horton was retaken
By Canadian volunteers.

The two sides of this story are told in "The Atlantic Advocate" in an article, "Bully of the North Defied," by Evelyn M. Richardson (July, 1958) and in "The Story of the E.A. Horton; a letter to the Editor" from Cecil Boyd (January, 1959).

Boyd also tells how MacDonald, who did a bit of contraband smuggling on the side, anticipated a visit to his little store from Customs Inspector Tory by placing a five-gallon keg of rum outside the counter and covering it over with a tarpaulin. "In the course of Inspector Tory's fruitless search," so the story goes, "he sat down on the tarpaulin-covered keg, and carried on a conversation with his subject, blissfully unaware that he himself was sitting on the evidence."

Second, a sincere and respectful question. Does anyone know the ultimate fate of the "Horton?" I came across the following reference in 31st Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, 1898, [Marine] on Wrecks and Casualties: "On 9 November 1898, the Edw'd Horton, a 28 year old, 67 reg. ton schooner, was wrecked off Brier Island in the Bay of Fundy on way from Digby to the fishing grounds. It was a total loss (2,500.00)." Could this be the legendary "Horton?"

Judith Giffin, Halifax, Nova Scotia


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